by Al Maxey
Issue #712 -------
January 14, 2017
The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
Ancient Arab Saying
The Missouri born poet T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), who, at the age of 39, chose to renounce his American citizenship and become a British subject, stated the following in his work "After Strange Gods" -- "Tradition must be perpetually criticized and brought up to date." In essence, Eliot was suggesting that tradition should never be allowed to become so entrenched in the hearts and minds of either individuals or societies (or even religious groups) that it takes on the mantle of Truth. Our traditions, rather, must be flexible enough to undergo change, or even removal, when examined in light of their relevance with respect to reflecting Truth in our ever evolving societies and cultures. Truth is constant; tradition is not. Yet, try convincing a hardened traditionalist of this and see what happens!!
Before we get too much farther into this study, perhaps it would be good to clarify a couple of terms. To be "tendentious" is to be "partisan" in one's perceptions and practices. Those persons who are tendentious, according to the Oxford Dictionary, are those who "express or promote a particular cause or point of view, especially a controversial one." The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this as "strongly favoring a particular point of view in a way that may cause argument." Tendentiousness, therefore, is "an intentional, partisan and controversial bias." It denotes one whose mind is not only made up, but also one whose views are carved in stone; they refuse to consider any other view than their own, and this bias inevitably leads them to criticize and condemn all who dare to differ with them. "Traditionalist" tendentiousness simply indicates the basis of their bias: i.e., tradition. Those who have elevated their traditional party perceptions and practices to the level of divine precept will almost always become divisive in the promotion of their dogmatism. Those outside of their own religious party are perceived as "the enemy," and such persons will be pursued and hounded to the ends of the earth, if necessary, in order to silence them.
Over the past 41 years of fulltime ministry I have managed to collect a cadre of critics: individuals determined to discredit, diminish and even destroy any teaching or practice other than their own. To differ with them is to differ with God. Such religionists tend to be very legalistic, and also very combative. The more militant they are with others, the more content they are with themselves, for they are "hammering heretics" to the glory of God (or so they believe), thereby demonstrating their devotion to Truth (which, of course, only they possess). In the early years of my ministry, I spent a lot of time and energy engaged in lengthy debates with these people. I have mellowed a bit since then, and I no longer take much note of their continued antics. However, on occasion I will take some time to shine a light on their tactics and teachings, for such continue to be a blight upon the beauty of the Bride of Christ Jesus. Thus, in this current issue of my Reflections, I want to briefly reflect upon three such critics and their criticisms, since they each have chosen, during the recent holiday season, to renew their efforts to expose my "heresy" and "save the church from the likes of Al Maxey" in 2017. These three individuals are Olan Hicks, Hugh Fulford, and Morris Bowers. I have known these men for many years, and Olan even wrote the Foreword to my first book ("Down, But Not Out"), for which I am grateful.
On December 15, 2016, Olan Hicks sent out a newsletter to his mailing list titled "Special Message for Al Maxey." He ended that piece with this statement to me: "Can you explain to God why you have done what you have done to His Word?!" Olan, and others like him, are firmly convinced that I have taken the NT writings and intentionally perverted them to teach "false doctrine." In this article he sent out, Olan listed seven NT texts, and then under each one he listed what I teach (or, what Olan himself believes I teach) that supposedly conflicts with the biblical text cited. For example, the #7 text quoted by Olan was 2 Corinthians 5:10 - "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." Olan focused specifically upon the term "all" in this text. He then stated that "men say" (i.e., this is what Al Maxey says) the following: "God's people will not be there to be judged." The problem here is that those who focus on command keeping as an essential element of our Christian experience (and of salvation itself), must have a day of reckoning where our performance and works are evaluated and we are, as a result, judged either fit or unfit for eternal life. I think we can all acknowledge that the Lord examines our hearts and makes a judgment based on what He sees there. He also has expectations for our lives. On that great day that is yet to come, there will indeed be a separation of "sheep from goats." Thus, a judgment will clearly have been rendered. What may be confusing Olan on this point is what Jesus stated in John 3:18 - "He who believes in Him is not judged." This is later explained by Jesus: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My Word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). The apostle John would later write, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). The command of our Lord is that we love one another. If we have faith in Him, and reflect that faith and love for Him by loving others, we have thereby passed out of death into life; His judgment has already taken place. This is true because our acceptance is faith-based, not performance-based. Yes, there will one day be a great act of separation unto reward/punishment, but our acceptance is even now already assured "by grace through faith."
This is something the legalists, patternists and traditionalists struggle with, and when we seek to shift the focus to grace and faith, they have trouble grasping this important distinction. This is reflected very well in the other six points Olan Hicks sought to make in his article, for they deal with command keeping and baptism. If you haven't been baptized in water, then you are going to hell. Period! If you don't spend your life keeping all the commands these people are convinced they have gleaned from the NT writings (or often the "silence" of the NT writings), then you are also going straight to hell. Period! Of course, they all have a somewhat different list of what these "soul saving commands" are, most of which deal with what may or may not be done in a "worship service" (a phrase never mentioned in Scripture) on Sunday morning, but they are adamant: follow the rules or you'll go to hell. I do not believe our redemption is based on correctly following rules and regulations; rather, it is based upon embracing our Redeemer by faith! If we love Him, we will indeed seek to show that love by our actions and attitudes every day of our lives. But, these works we engage in daily are performed because we ARE saved, not in order TO BE saved (Ephesians 2:8-10). When one finally discerns that our salvation is a free gift by grace through faith, and not based upon knowledge or performance, then the confusion evidenced in Olan's article is quickly cleared up. Thus, I haven't done anything "to His Word," as Olan has suggested, except to accept it and proclaim it. It is rather tradition that I have "done" something to: I have questioned it and I have challenged it in light of Truth (rather than elevating it to Truth).
Hugh Fulford, like Olan, has also elevated some of these same items to the level of LAW. In the December 27, 2016 issue of his little periodical "Hugh's News & Views" (which issue he has titled "Random Thoughts and Gleanings"), Hugh makes it clear he has little regard for those who suggest baptism is anything other than the precise moment of one's salvation, and indeed essential for one's salvation. Unbaptized = Unsaved. Period. End of discussion! Hugh goes on in this article to accuse those of us who differ with him on this as being people "who make fun of doing exactly what the Lord says with reference to salvation" ... and who "mock doing exactly what the Lord said." For the legalists, who believe their view of things IS the Lord's view, any difference in either belief or practice is perceived as virtually demonic in origin. To differ with Hugh is to "mock" God and "make fun of" what He says.
But, Hugh Fulford has larger "bones to pick" with the godless liberals than their views on baptism, instrumental music, and the like. What sets Hugh off is when we dare to suggest that the group denominated in the Yellow Pages as "Church of Christ" is NOT exclusively, and in its entirety, the universal One Body of Christ on planet Earth. Although he has become quite adept at dancing all around it, he is still convinced (and this becomes clear when you paint him into a corner) that this denominated group IS that One True Church, and all other groups are godless "denominations." Only WE, in OUR group, are "the one true church." Only WE have things all figured out, and only WE worship "correctly" on Sunday mornings. All others are dishonest, deceitful and ultimately damned. Hugh wrote, "It takes great courage as well as great humility for one to admit that he or she has been wrong religiously and to leave a family religious tradition for the truth of God's Word, but our destination in eternity hangs in the balance." Translation? He simply means, "Unless you leave your denomination and come join US in 'the one true church,' and begin worshipping according to OUR traditions -- uh, I mean 'Truth' -- you will go to hell." Only those in the One True Church are saved, they will tell you, and ... you guessed it ... "WE are it!!" Hugh wrote, "If when people read the New Testament they would remove their denominational spectacles and lay aside their religious traditions, the beauty of undenominational, New Testament Christianity would shine through in all its radiant splendor and divine power." And, if all the heathen out there would like to actually SEE this ... just look up the local "Church of Christ" church in the Yellow Pages and go visit it. As you might imagine, such arrogance gags me, and for this reason Hugh has little use for me, which he conveys periodically in his periodical.
Morris Bowers lives in Athens, Alabama, and he has been trying to "save" me for many, many years. His approach, however, is less aggressive than the approach of Olan, and less arrogant than the approach of Hugh. He doesn't deal with me directly; rather, he sends me articles that other people write, hoping that something someone might say might restore me to my sanity. A few days ago he sent me the latest offering: an article written by Whit Sasser, who is the preacher, and also one of the elders, for the Appleton Church of Christ (which is a small Non-Institutional ["Anti"] group) in Appleton, Wisconsin. His article is titled "A Patternist and Legalist." When one sees an article with this title, one almost immediately assumes that the person will be speaking against these religious attributes. Not so in this case! Sasser proudly proclaims himself to be both -- "Let me just go on record in saying that I am unapologetically a religious patternist and legalist." To try and justify this, he writes, "the Holy Spirit through Paul says, all things are to be lawful (1 Corinthians 6:12) ... I am legalistic and make no apology for being so."
Walt Sasser might want to take another look at that passage. Paul actually wrote, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Corinthians 6:12, NASB). Sasser made a few alterations to the passage, and in so doing altered the meaning. He subtracted the phrase "for me," and added the phrase "to be," which leaves the impression that Paul is teaching that "all things are TO BE lawful" -- i.e., we are to be governed by law. If this were true, then we would indeed need to be legalists and patternists. But, as serious students of the Word know, this is not what Paul was saying. I dealt with this text two years ago in Reflections #647 ("Liberty vs. Libertarianism - Limiting Our Liberty in Love: Pondering the Parameters of a Practical Principle"), which I would urge both Sasser and Bowers to carefully and prayerfully consider.
At the beginning of this issue of Reflections I placed an image showing a weary, stressed person on all fours within the darkened confines of a triangle. I would imagine this is how one might feel when being pressed from three directions (as per the three individuals above) into a restricted, darkened space, which is where many victims of the legalists find themselves. My ministry and mission (especially as it pertains to my writings) is to tear down these walls, bring light into the darkness, and lift up the weary and help lead them to the light of liberty they may discover and enjoy in Christ Jesus. What a joy it is to see such people "leap like calves from the stall" (about which I wrote in my previous issue of Reflections) as they come to realize their freedom. My prayer is that some of the leaders among the legalists (like Olan, Hugh, Morris and Walt) will come to accept this release from religion into relationship. There is room for all ... hope to see you here, guys, where you can stand unrestricted and unrestrained in the light, rather than cowering in the darkness of your religious confinement.
SAD NEWS -- I was contacted by the family of Bill Good the other day to inform me of his death. Bill was a faithful reader of my Reflections, and we'd often correspond with one another. I truly cherished his insights. Bill, who lived in Vancouver, Washington, died on December 21, 2016 at the age of 86. His obituary read, in part, "He loved the Lord and His Son Yeshua the Messiah. He shared God's love with others, and taught His children to know the Lord. Every day Bill studied the Word and read for deeper understanding." His daughter Alison wrote me: "Dad spoke of you often, and he would share your Reflections and emails with Mum and me from time to time. He enjoyed the many discussions and friendships he made through your list over the years. Please feel free to share this with those who also knew Papa. Condolences may be sent to his email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), as Mum and I are monitoring it." My thoughts and prayers go out to Bill's wife, Doris, and to his family and friends. May God bring them great comfort, and may we all rejoice in the knowledge that another child of the King is at rest from his labors, awaiting that Great Day of resurrection and reunion. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Pennsylvania:
I must confess that I had been an infrequent reader of your Reflections on your web site. That has now changed dramatically, however. I only wish I had been more faithful over the years in my study of your teachings, because your wisdom is now helping make the unbearable bearable, and perhaps a present painful experience might have been avoided had I been more astute. God only knows. Anyway, my wife and I just finished reading your book: "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice." Thank you for all that you do! You provide great teaching and encouragement, and I hope to come visit with you in person soon.
From a Reader in Colorado:
God bless you, Al Maxey, as you continue to serve the Lord. I've learned so much from reading your Reflections. Thank you!!
From an Author in Arizona:
Al, my fellow Editor and Soldier, I don't know with any certainty how you feel about music and dancing, but I'm inclined to lean with agreement toward the quote given at the top of your last Reflections: "The truest expression of a people is in its dances and its music. Bodies never lie" (quote from Agnes de Mille). This contains more truth than falsehood. I've been around a long time, and have observed and experienced an abundance of human behavior, both on the floor and off the floor, and I can tell you that I'm a disciple of Agnes de Mille's logic on this. The essence of human behavior can be expressed in a diversity of fashions. Music and dancing are two among many! Stay in there, brother! P.S., I love to dance!!
I personally have no problem with people dancing, nor with various expressions of our emotions within a "worship setting" (although, frankly, I view all of life as a "worship setting," not just a few hours a week in some "sanctuary"). The expressions of our God-given emotions through dance, music, and other forms are too frequently suppressed by those who deem them to be "unspiritual" in nature. I believe they are mistaken. I would urge a study of my following two Reflections on this matter: "Expressing Emotion in Worship: Does Emotionalism Negate True Worship?" (Issue #380) and "Praise Him With Dancing: What is God's View of Dancing?" (Issue #403). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in North Carolina:
"Cavorting Calves Christianity" (Reflections #711) was another enriching article, brother! As I read it, I was reminded of a dog which has been chained up (or penned up) for awhile. Take that chain off (or open that pen) and that dog will run around and "go crazy" until it tires itself out. It is as if it is shouting, "I'm free! Free at last!" I imagine this will be somewhat our own response when we reach heaven. We will be so elated and filled with happiness that we will leap for joy as we praise the God of heaven! Blessings to you for the New Year, my brother.
From a Reader in Halifax, Nova Scotia:
This article has brought back many wonderful memories of when I had a dairy farm. I kept my herd in stalls all through the winter. They enjoyed the warmth of the barn, regular feedings, being groomed and milked. They had the "life of Riley." BUT, when I opened the barn doors in the spring, you could feel a new, more lively, spirit in the barn. The whole herd would become excited. These were not just calves; these were the mature milk cows. When I let them lose and they got outside, I would bust my side in laughter watching them jump, frolic, run, and even rub their heads on the new grass. It was a super happy sight! I can see Jesus, the Spirit, and the Father just "busting up" with joy when we are "let loose" to simply love our God with all our hearts. I really love you, brother!! This article has come at a time when I am having struggles with health and with finding a new place to live. Your Reflections today gave my old heart a sure boost of God's Sun/Son-shine, as I thought about one day seeing the joy on Their faces when we come eagerly leaping home. Thanks again, brother!
From a Reader in South Korea:
Happy New Year, Al. Thank you so much for your commentary on Malachi 4:2 ("Cavorting Calves Christianity"). I was excited to read it. Again, your perspective reminds us of the freedom we have in Christ. Keep up this great effort.
From a Reader in Unknown:
I have always loved that passage from Malachi, and I have marked it with dates multiple times during various seasons of needing to reset my hope and vision on Christ and His enduring Kingdom. I appreciate you!!
From a Reader in Texas:
A grin almost broke my face as I read your article about calves cavorting in their freedom, which is exactly how I feel these days. Spending most of my life on farms, the analogy fits me to the core. I was "kept in the stall" until your Reflections helped me break free. So, thanks to you and the awesome God we serve! One of my problems with heaven was trying to understand how we could all be happy there when so many of our friends/kin were missing. Then I read something about how those unbelievers will be completely forgotten by us, which eased my mind some. But, now I cannot find any Scripture passage to back up this view. What am I missing?
I firmly believe God will not only wipe every tear from our eyes, but in doing so will also forever wipe away the cause for those tears. How He plans to accomplish this? -- I don't know; yet, I have no doubt He can accomplish it. I believe there will be recognition in the new heavens and earth, and so this does indeed pose the types of questions that you have mentioned (and others besides). I have dealt with that in some depth in the following Reflections article: "The Doctrine of Post-Resurrection Recognition: Will We Know Each Other in Heaven?" (Issue #235). I would also urge a reading of my new book, as it deals with this and other related topics even more extensively: From Ruin To Resurrection. -- Al Maxey
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